Unfazed by articles proclaiming the “death of the bookshelf,” Britain’s The Guardian newspaper is launching a trial of Shelf Improvement, its new book subscription service “that aims to improve the literary lives of book lovers in 2014.” Without a single ebook or Kindle in sight.

Shelf Improvement, it seems, is “all about sharing the experience and expertise of our trusted editors, critics and writers in order to expand your reading horizons. Each month, they’ll name their top pick and we’ll pop it in the post. The exact book remains a mystery until it lands on the doorstep.”

In need of some Shelf Improvement

Savor those words. Post. Doorstep. Even trusted editors. Don’t they bring back a rich heritage of bygone values, when you didn’t have to plow through endless self-published almost-freebies and you could trust a trusted editor to lead your taste by the hand through the woody forest of books made from trees? Heady stuff indeed. And no need to deal with those nasty Amazon people, who, as any faithful Guardian reader knows, make unregenerate Scrooge and the Grinch look like Christmas spirit personified in comparison. And lest you be tempted to move over to the dark side, The Guardian has protected you by not providing a single ebook option for the service, although it does provide downloadable Shelf Improvement gift certificates.

Good to see, too, that The Guardian still has faith in the future of the printed book. Perhaps they know something we don’t? Perhaps Western civilization is safe after all?

For anyone who actually buys the thesis of the “death of the bookstore” author – as opposed to buying more books – Shelf Improvement will confirm all the most hackneyed prejudices about Guardian readers – as well-meaning but aspirational types with better intentions than knowledge. Just the right audience to have their horizons expanded and their shelves prettified Guardian style.

But why carp? Come on, Brits, this Christmas, give your shelves some love. Just make sure not to park a Kindle or a Kobo reader on them.


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